Lumpkins found guilty

Thursday, September 3, 2009 | 4:59 p.m. CDT; updated 11:40 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009
Keyonda Lumpkins, sitting between defense attorney Kevin O'Brien and his assistant Heidi Terryberry, reacts to being found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old son, Cortez Johnson. Lumpkins faces 10 years to life in prison.

COLUMBIA—A Platte County jury found Keyonda Lumpkins guilty Thursday of second-degree murder in the beating death of her 2-year-old son, Cortez Johnson.

She faces a minimum of 10 years to life in prison.

Throughout the three-day trial and in his closing argument, defense attorney Kevin O’Brien sought to portray Lumpkins as a victim and the boy's father Horace Johnson as a "controlling animal” and "a master in manipulation.” Aware of Lumpkins’ weakened condition from sickle cell anemia, Horace Johnson used it to his advantage, especially to keep her away from her child and his injuries, O’Brien said.

But Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight asked the jury to view the case as an outright felony murder. In his final words to the jury before deliberations began, Knight said the toddler had endured 27 months' of misery, suffering and pain during his short life.

“Keyonda Lumpkins showed no mercy, and please, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,  show her no mercy,” he said.

Knight told the jury that he was not trying to convince them that Lumpkins had inflicted the injuries that killed her son. He didn't have to prove that, he said. For the jury to find Lumpkins guilty of felony murder, the prosecution had to prove only that she left her son in an abusive environment knowing that he was being hurt.  

Knight also characterized the defense’s witnesses — mostly members of Lumpkins' family — as biased and liars because they must have seen the injuries on the toddler’s body during the days leading up to his death.

To drive home his point, Knight held up for the jury to see once again the photographs of Cortez's body. As Lumpkins' family listened intently, the prosecutor pointed to specific injuries the Boone County medical examiner, Eddie Adelstein had testified about earlier in the trial — some of which were old burns and cuts, suggesting longtime abuse.

The child was brought to University Hospital with more than 200 injuries on his body from burns, cuts, and strikes to his head, which caused bleeding in his skull that led to his death, according to testimony earlier this week from MU neuropathologist Douglas Miller.

Johnson, 27, has also been charged in the death of his son. Johnson could not be called to testify in this trial because he is a co-defendant and is scheduled to go on trial in December, O’Brien, said.

When Judge Gene Hamilton read the guilty verdict, which the Platte County jury reached in two and a half hours, Lumpkins showed no emotion. But, after the jury and judge left the courtroom, she stared straight ahead and began to cry.

Lumpkins' family gathered around her mother, Sheila Lumpkin, and tried to comfort her. (Keyonda Lumpkins changed her name, adding the "s.") Family members declined to talk about the jury’s verdict.

In an interview after court was dismissed, Knight said the jurors did the right thing and that he was happy that they paid close attention to testimony and evidence.

"The next best thing to a confession is a provable lie," he said. "I established that  (Lumpkins) fabricated her story that she was not aware of this abuse happening."

Knight said he would recommend she receive the maximum sentence.

O’Brien said he was disappointed, and that he would move for a new trial and prepare for the sentencing hearing on Oct. 5.

“We will probably use many of the same witnesses from her family,” O’Brien said. “Her family members love her and deeply care about her.”

The sentence hearing will be in front of Hamilton, who will decide Lumpkins' prison term.

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